FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) -- A Florida city called state health inspectors on itself to report rats in a downtown park so it could evict homeless people living there.
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that Fort Lauderdale called the state health department last month to report rats in city-owned Stranahan Park.
A state health inspector cited the city and gave it 30 days to clean the park. Using that citation, Fort Lauderdale ordered 60 people from the park and threw away any belongings that went unclaimed.
Advocates for the homeless said one woman lost a laptop computer while others lost birth certificates, Social Security cards, identification cards and family photos.
Mayor Jack Seiler said that when the state cited the city, officials had no choice.
"When the Department of Health had to intervene," Mayor Jack Seiler told a crowd at an unofficial State of the City address Wednesday, "we had to act." He said that the city is under no obligation to give homeless people a comfortable existence in the park when their presence harms nearby businesses.
"The City closed the park for health, safety, and welfare reasons, and nobody can dispute that point," Seiler told the newspaper in an email.
But Jeff Weinberger of the October 22nd Alliance to End Homelessness, said the city "ratted themselves out" so they could "viciously" discard the belongings and force the homeless out.
"These are not cattle that you can herd along," he said. "These are human beings. They have lives; they have histories."
Many of the homeless have returned to the area and are now congregating in the courtyard of the nearby Broward County main library. The city says it cannot evict them from that spot unless the county complains.